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Editor's Choice: A Review
Butter Beans to Blackberries: Recipes From the Southern Garden
by Ronni Lundy, North Point Press
While modern lifestyles may have severed the hands-on connection between city and suburban dwellers and farm-grown produce, the proliferation of farm markets throughout the country proves that people are nonetheless attracted to fresh produce and food products not intended for the enormous commercial market.
Perfect for this time of year, Ronni Lundy has written a cookbook for those of us who have been dazzled by the cornucopia of beautiful vegetables at a farm market or enticed by the just-picked offerings of a road-side stand, but are uncertain as to how to proceed once the purchase is made.
I was impressed from the outset with Butter Beans to Blackberries. The book fell open to the author's recipe for "Real Cornbread." That recipe was enough like my own (i.e., devoid of sugar and flour, made with buttermilk and flavored by bacon drippings) that I felt an instant kinship with the author and her approach toward Southern cooking.
Ms. Lundy's book does indeed begin with butter beans and end with blackberries, but in the roughly 300 pages between them, she covers most everything a Southern garden or truck farm is likely to produce, including crowder peas, more beans, greens, corn and grits, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes and roots, mushrooms, citrus fruits, peaches, apples, figs, strawberries and blueberries. The recipes in this book are a mix of traditional methods of preparation, such as Classic Southern-Style Green Beans, and fresh takes on old favorites like New South Moussaka, some wonderful morel mushroom dishes, and Lime Chayote. The author even shares her recipe for "Perfect Iced Tea." About traditional methods of preparation, Ms. Lundy has this to say:
I have heard all the arguments and I am tired of them. I know there is an army of nutritionists and nouvelle chefs lined up to swear that if you cook a green bean more than 20, 12, 6, or 2 minutes, you will have robbed if of all its flavor and nutritional value.
Well, until they come by my house some late June, pick up a pot of white half-runners that have simmered for a couple of hours on the back of my stove with white bacon, cart it down to the lab, and run it through every test known to man to determine its content of both vitamins and minerals, I refuse to believe that old-fashioned, Southern-style green beans aren't as good for you as they taste.
Ms. Lundy is preaching to the choir, as far as this reader is concerned, and she does so in a most charming and eloquent manner.
This book was researched through the author's extensive travel throughout the South, and she shares her experiences right down to conversations she had with growers, chefs, restauranteurs and one ill-tempered innkeeper. Butter Beans to Blackberries includes a comprehensive list of "Things to Order," should you wish to try some of the foods and products whose virtues Ms. Lundy extolls. And the book can also be used as a kind of gustatory trip planner since it includes a "Places to Go" section, arranged by state.
These days, the truly "with-it" cook has a whole world's worth of foods to learn, a task made easier by our shrinking world and the attendant communication between cultures. After reading Butter Beans to Blackberries, however, I've decided to postpone the Pacific Rim for a little while longer and relearn some of the cooking of my own Southern forebears.
Butter Beans to Blackberries left me eager to make Fried Pies and try The Ultimate Banana Pudding, a decidedly new take on a Southern favorite. I want to snap a mess of beans and simmer up a pot of Okra and Tomatoes. I want to mail order some sorghum and put it in my pies.
Butter Beans to Blackberries deserves high praise. The Texas Cooking Online Editor's Choice designtion for the month of June is well-earned and, considering the subject matter, well-timed.
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